Veteran singer and Do-Re-Mi leader Deborah Conway, Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, and award-winning songwriter Diane Warren are among the 120-plus music and entertainment figures who’ve signed an open-letter slamming the boycott of Sydney Festival.

“Unfortunately, this year,” the letter explains, “the spirit of the Festival is under attack by those calling for a boycott because the Israeli Embassy is sponsoring a world renowned Israeli dance ensemble. This call for a boycott turns the festival from an opportunity for unity into a weapon of division.”

The letter was issued Thursday (Jan. 6) by Creative Community For Peace, a not-for-profit that exists to counter antisemitism within the entertainment industry, and drum-up support against the cultural boycott of Israel.

Its timing coincided with day one of the 2022 Sydney Festival, which is facing waves of controversy over its sponsorship arrangement with the Israeli Embassy in Canberra, which chipped-in a $20,000 grant for the performance of Decadance, a project by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin and Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company, and co-presented by Sydney Dance Company.

Some 30 performers, guest speakers and companies have joined the boycott of this year’s event, including Tropical F*ck Storm, which took aim at organisers on Thursday with a strongly worded letter of its own.

Tropical Fuck Storm
Tropical Fuck Storm

TFS has scrapped its two planned performances at this year’s festival, while calling out organisers for creating a “shit sandwich” for “every billed artist” on its programme. 

In its statement, TFS criticises the festival for “taking on a sponsor so dodgy, pointless and controversial it would inevitably mean that hundreds of unwitting artists (who are having a rough enough time with the pandemic as it is) would become the targets of online harassment, bullying, smear campaigns, ridiculous accusations, misrepresentations and abuse from total strangers who have no idea what’s actually going on behind the scenes, what any artist’s position is or even what they’re talking about.”

Festival organisers are trying to weather the storm. On Tuesday, its board issued a second statement, noting “all funding agreements for the current Festival – including for Decadance – will be honoured, and the performances will proceed.”

At the same time, its statement continues, “the board has also determined it will review its practices in relation to funding from foreign governments or related parties.”

With TFS and others backing out, the Israel advocacy organisation takes a different approach. “While art can reflect politics, and artists can choose to reflect their politics in their own art, art should never become subservient to politics and artists and cultural events should never be forced to be politicised,” its letter reads.

The statement quotes ARIA Hall of Famer Nick Cave, who, in a 2018 blog post, stated “the cultural boycott of Israel is cowardly and shameful. Israel is a real, vibrant, functioning democracy – yes, with Arab members of parliament – and so engaging with Israelis, who vote, may be more helpful than scaring off artists or shutting down means of engagement.”

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